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The (2-8) San Francisco 49ers arrived in Nashville, Tennessee last Sunday to avenge a close loss to the division leading Seattle Seahawks just a week before. They prepared to do battle with one of the worst teams in the American Football Conference, the Tennessee Titans.
Little did we know that they would make us the worst team in the National Football Conference by defeating us handily in the third quarter, and ending it all in another 15 minutes with a final score of 33-22. In that quarter, we became the team that everyone talks about behind our backs and that the betting lines in Las Vegas depict as the laughing stock of the NFL.
In the third such straight week, the 49er special teams unit has been abysmal. In the two games prior to this one, rookie wide receiver Rasheed Marshall had come in and filled the return specialist spot vacated by wide receiver Otis Amey. Amey has been out due to an ankle injury that he had been nursing. Mike Nolan made the decision to go with Rasheed Marshall after he had solid returns in the road game against Washington, and the home games against Tampa Bay and the New York Giants. But his stock began to crash like the New York Stock Exchange after he muffed a punt while on the road in Chicago and then fumbled a kickoff return against the Seattle Seahawks (both led to points scored by the opposition in field goals).
The 49er staff then elected to go with Otis Amey, who came out in the beginning moments of the third quarter and muffed the punt as it bounced off of him and was recovered by Tennessee at our 41-yard line. This, in effect, was the beginning of the end, even with us leading the Titans 14-9 entering the second half and finally feeling like we had just enough, despite several mistakes in the first half, to win this game.
After the Tennessee Titans recovered the ball at the 41-yard line, veteran quarterback Steve McNair worked his magic by connecting with running back Chris Brown for a touchdown. The Titans never looked back again.
"I felt like that was a big momentum swing in the game," Amey said. "We've been working on trying to get to every ball.. It was in the air, the wind was blowing hard, the ball died and my goal was to try and fair catch it, but I couldn't get to it in time. Right when it bounced, it hit me, I spun around and I couldn't find the ball."
I must say, at least Otis Amey pays attention to detail. Making catches like these is critical to keeping the offense on the field and in positive field position. This is something that has been severely tested as of late with our inexperience on special teams, because we have been on the turnover end of things far too often, which has resulted in points scored for the opposition.
The touchdown pass to Chris Brown was contested with 49er linebacker Andre Carter narrowly missing Steve McNair for a sack, and even then the 49ers had yet another shot at stopping Brown as Julian Peterson missed him on a tackle at the sideline.
Following this touchdown, veteran quarterback Steve McNair looked like the man of old when he hooked up with touchdown passes to Roydell Williams, who beat one-on-one coverage with cornerback Bruce Thornton, for a 50-yard touchdown,. On the next play, he found tight end Erron Kinney on a four-yard touchdown after driving from Tennessee's own 32-yard line.
The stress I incurred from this game was unbelievable as I watched Ken Dorsey and the offense struggle throughout this quarter by going three-and-out four straight times. They manufactured a mere 17 total yards, and then opened the fourth quarter with an interception thrown by Ken Dorsey.
Dorsey completed 23 of 43 passes for 192 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. One of those picks was not his fault, as it was deflected off tight end Billy Bajema towards the end of the second quarter. Although he gave the offensive line credit for its protection of him, he was still sacked twice by the Titan defense and was repeatedly hurried into making erratic decisions with his passes.
The most glaring penalty that I can't get over is the one we received for holding on right tackle malcontent Kwame Harris. Running back Kevan Barlow broke for a 75-yard touchdown run that could've been the bargaining chip in winning this game, especially with the turnovers in the second half. After this magnificent run, Barlow never again was a factor in the game as he finished with 14 carries for 40 total yards. In fact, the 49ers only manufactured 74 total yards on the ground in the entire game with an average of 3.4-yards a carry.
Barlow continues to hesitate and doesn't really have the instincts to find the hole and make the calculated burst when he needs to go up the middle. He is in fact a juke and jive type of running back that depends on the offensive line to make gaping wide holes for him to be productive.
Maurice Hicks is another running back in that category but has better instincts and a lot more speed when making the decision to attack the opening that has been created. In my opinion, using him more would be advantageous to us in getting something, or anything, to happen on the ground.
In my opinion, Frank Gore is the future for us at running back should he comeback healthy. He is a north and south kind of running back with tremendous power to crash through the middle and carry and run over defensive backs.
We have struggled in the rushing category since we lost Garrison Hearst and continue to be force- fed an offensive line that is riddled with injuries, lack of production, and inexperience. We must win the time of possession battle in every game by creating a grand rushing attack and regain the respect we once held in that field.
I want to give credit to cornerback Shawntae Spencer on his play right before the first half ended. It was a Steve McNair pass that he intended to throw to wide receiver Brandon Jones just short of the goal line
Brandon Jones, however, crumpled to the ground when he made a sharp cut and the ball sailed perfectly into Shawntae Spencer's hands. From there, despite still recovering from an ankle injury, he sprinted down the sideline 61-yards, leaped over a would-be tackler at the five yard line and scored a touchdown to make it 14-9 49ers.
Optimism ran deep after the first half. But it was the second half that made every 49er fan squirm in their collective seats...wherever they were seated. Anguish and frustration on a season where promises have been broken and a future that looks as if the dark ages are still upon us.
Like you, I look at every blade of grass in this season trying to identify the positives in every game despite always losing. I try and register the development of individual players on the team and hold dear to myself that their individual contributions will someday be the consistency we have been missing all season long.
"When we came out in the second half, I expected us to perform the same," Mike Nolan said. "I thought we had a great chance to win the game (judging by) how we were playing. We gave up some explosive passes in the second half that hurt us."
Don't forget the turnovers and the conservative play calling. Instead of going into a no huddle offense and working the ball downfield at a faster pace, we saw the team run three consecutive times for minimal yards with us being so far behind on the scoreboard.
"We played well for three quarters, that one quarter just messed us up," said Julian Peterson, adding the Titan's offense seemed to have a surge in confidence in the third quarter."
The San Francisco 49ers are now (0-5) on the road. They are 2-21 away from home since late 2002. We continue by knowing where we are on the season, which is in the cellar of our own division with the door shut tight.
Left tackle Adam Snyder scared me in the very first play in the game when he was beaten for a sack on Ken Dorsey and had a false start penalty registered against him. I still find him a better alternative to Anthony Clement and hope that the playing experience continues to strengthen the abilities and skills he already has produced while out on the field.
Ken Dorsey also continues to make erratic throws from time to time, making you wonder what he's contemplating while throwing the ball. He overthrew Brandon Lloyd on a critical pass in the third quarter and now admits he should've thrown the ball higher to give him a chance to leap up and grab it.
I did like the change of pace when wide receiver Arnaz Battle lined up in the shotgun, with Ken Dorsey as a wide receiver on the right. Battle effectively took the snap and ran nine yards to set-up a Kevan Barlow one-yard run for a touchdown.
I would like to see more chances taken on fourth down like the Tennessee Titans did in this game because in all actuality, what do you really have to lose when your season is already over?
And please Mike McCarthy, despite your impressive offensive successes in the past, you certainly have to agree that being ultra-conservative this far into the season is just not an option we care to look at anymore. We need more no-huddle offenses and better blocking and protection as well.
I would like to salute Jeremy Newberry who is one of the best players on this San Francisco 49er team. He is the true modern day version of a warrior in action. He is playing under excruciating pain from one week to the next and believing in what this team is trying to do and accomplish this season. His knee finally became an issue and he was placed on injured reserve in an attempt to salvage the remainder of his career by electing to have surgery. Every player on this team will confess how courageous this one individual really is. He is to be commended for his dedication and his fearlessness in the heat of battle, sometimes playing with bone crunching against bone as he is pushed back under the weight of bigger defensive linemen. The pain is something he has always been able to manage in his mind and win each and every week. He has been a rock and an enigma on this football team. I hold him up high, along with defensive tackle and end Bryant Young, as being a true 49er that wears the colors and honors our traditions as an era not yet vanished.
As fans, we recognize this and say, "Thank you Jeremy." You are a class act in every sense of the word. I hope there will be other players that follow your example on this team and have as much motivation and spirit as you.
Lord knows we need so much more to help resurrect this team and for us to determine who will stay and who will go after the 2005 season has ended. Now is the time for Alex Smith to re-enter the quarterback scenario and to prove that he is worth every penny paid to him. Answers need to be forthcoming and questions need to fade for this team to find transit over the next hurdles.
How the San Francisco 49ers do in the remainder of the season will be subject to scrutiny and change. Obviously, we have many areas of concern to recommend action for, and hopefully Scott McCloughan and Mike Nolan will work together to make the adjustments that are necessary.
However, I cannot be quiet on the need of owners Dr. John York and Denise DeBartolo to be generous with the pocket book. We must be able to attract higher priced and sought after free agents in order to make the team more competitive and viable. We cannot achieve everything through the draft but we certainly can make positive headway.